Category Archives: Annotated Games

Failing to Win a Won Game, Part 3

The following game is one of the first correspondence chess games that I played at the Internet Chess Club (ICC). I don’t know when this game was played nor do I know the ratings of both players at the time that this game was started. According to my notes on this game I lost most of those early games on ICC. Eventually, I won enough games to get my ICC correspondence chess rating over 1700 points. I quit playing correspondence chess there because I was having trouble getting paired into games and because of the repeated time control violations. Some of my opponents were repeat offenders and yet they still got off with warnings! Why have time controls if you are not going to enforce them?

I think that I made a notation error on White’s final move and that the White Queen went to g5 and not g6 on move number 24. Otherwise, my resignation makes no sense at all! Did I really miss the win of the White Queen and resign in a correspondence chess game? In an over the board (OTB) game I could blame such an error on fatigue or a distraction. I have no such excuse in correspondence chess! I prefer to believe that I made a notation error!

I think that I was playing this game without the use of a game database and that was why I didn’t play this opening very well. The first eight moves are typical of what I would play against a Closed Sicilian Defense and I have usually done well with this. My queenside expansion may not have been the best idea and I missed playing f5 at a key point in this game. Playing my Queen to a5 on move number 12 was probably the beginning of a series of small mistakes that lead to my demise. I was also guilty of not developing my Bishop on c8 and thus not connecting my rooks on my back rank. This also caused problems for me. I compounded my errors with pawn grabbing and leaving my King under protected.

Someone stated that the ultimate chess blunder is resigning in a won position. I have done that at least once before this game. Did I make the same blunder here too? At the point where I resigned, I was up a Queen, Rook, Knight and pawn! However, my King was totally naked and had nowhere to run or hide.

Mike Serovey

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Lessons From My 3rd Tournament Game: The Nature Of Endgames

I have now shown the first two tournament games of my life, from 1980: I lost the first game and won the second game. My third game, discussed here was a draw.

It was an instructive experience for me in my first tournament to experience all three possible results in the first three rounds! I believe it might have been devastating if, for example, I had lost too many games in my very first tournament. Instead, I was involved in some very long and interesting games from the start.

My opponent was rated around USCF 1500, and this shows in his play.

Common errors in 1500-level chess

Opening

In the opening, I had no idea how to play the Black side of a Ruy Lopez. Nobody had taught me the plans for White or Black. I was just winging it. I gave up the center at move 10; my opponent returned the favor by playing apparently mechanical moves that would have applied in a “standard” line, instead of more principled developing moves fitting the situation.

The first thing someone at a 1500 level can do, after mastering basic tactics, is to understand the basic principles of what to try to achieve in the middlegame after the first several opening moves. Many games at this level are decided, unfortunately, by “unorthodox” opening continuations that lead immediately to not knowing how to cope, being outside of one’s memorization. Pointlessly giving up the center for Black should have led to trouble for me, but by accident, actually kept working well for me, against 1500-level opponents, even after this game, because they did not understand what to do any more than I did, and it became almost random who would enter the middlegame with an advantage.

Middlegame

One thing I noticed while looking at my first tournament games, including this third one, was that at the level of play of myself and my opponent, we shuffled a lot of pieces around, either

  • “attacking” without enough backup, or
  • playing passive-looking retreating moves without a clear plan of reactivation.

In particular, I did not understand the importance of looking for Pawn breaks. Here, for example, c5 was crying out to be played, repeatedly. However, I did use a g4 Pawn break to achieve a lasting advantage, so I get some credit for that.

Also, I got into tactical trouble, hanging a piece in an elementary way. Luckily, my opponent got bamboozled and missed an elementary “capture Pawn with check and double attack” that would have left me completely lost, and instead allowed me a recapture with check that led to a Queen trade into an endgame favorable to me!

1500-level chess is still largely decided by big swings in evaluation resulting from missed tactics.

Endgame

The endgame was an unbalanced one, with Black having a Rook and two Pawns for two minor pieces. It favored Black because of the noticeable lead in development. My opponent as White made the elementary mistake of trading pieces in a bad endgame, rather than keeping them to maximize defensive possibilities. Trading the single remaining Rook led to a terrible Rook and two Pawns versus two Knights endgame.

However, again I did not know yet to aggressively use my Pawns, especially here the Queen side Pawn majority. There was a lot of random shuffling around of pieces, then an insidious swindle by my part when I finally realized I should attack on the Queen side. I succeeded in achieving a tactically won position against the pair of Knights, but never saw the win. After too much simplification, the result was a dead draw.

My observation about 1500-level endgame play is that players trade pieces and Pawns too readily, not realizing that there are times when a trade helps and there are times when a trade harms. As a result, many quick draws happen in actually interesting and unbalanced endgames. The 1500-level player who understands endgames can often survive terrible openings and middlegames and win in the endgame. I wish I had learned this lesson earlier in life. I now think that “working backwards”, by knowing what to aim for in the endgame, and then approaching the middlegame with a goal of reaching a good endgame, and approaching the opening with a goal of reaching a good middlegame, should be addressed by students of chess who have reached a 1500-level and are no longer just making extreme tactical blunders constantly.

The complete annotated game

Franklin Chen

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Failing to Win a Won Game, Part 2

This is a game that I played back in 2005. In this case my opponent was the one who failed to win a won game. I had White against a higher rated player and I got surprised by a kingside sacrifice. Then, Nolan got greedy and grabbed the pawn on h4. That gave me time to bring my Rook back to the h file and defend my King. If he had ignored that pawn and continued to check my King he would have checkmated it in the center of the chess board. Because of the pawn grab I was able to trade down into an endgame in which I was up material. After that I simply ran Nolan out of time.

More analysis of this game can be found at http://mikeseroveyonchess.com/chess-games/english-opening-page/english-opening-with-nolan-j-denson-page/

Mike Serovey

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Lessons From My 2nd Tournament Game

Last week, I wrote about deciding to analyze my tournament games from over thirty years ago for my own benefit as well as for valuable teaching material. I started off with my first tournament game, from 1980, as an unrated 10-year-old boy, which I lost without much of a fight.

This week, I bring a much more interesting game, my second tournament game that took place probably an hour or two after my first one. This game, played against someone rated around USCF 1400, I ended up winning, but as is typical in games of this level, both sides made serious errors. The nature of these errors is instructive.

Themes to pay attention to

As is typical in weaker amateurs’ games, we were out of opening “book” theory at move 5 in a Petroff Defense, when my opponent played a poor and strange Queen move. I reacted not terribly, but not best either. If I were coaching my younger self now, I would emphasize that general principles apply when facing strange moves in the opening. Here, just because my opponent moved his Queen doesn’t mean that I should also move my Queen!

Quick piece trades into an ending; interesting imbalance of my having the Bishop pair

Typical of games at this level, a lot of piece trades happened, just because they could. Stronger players would evaluate whether it is advantageous to offer a particular trade or to accept one. The trade in this game at move 16 determined the course of the rest of the game: my opponent gave up a Bishop for my Knight, resulting in a permanent imbalance whose significance was not appreciated by either of us, as our endgame shows.

All the trades resulted in an endgame with two Bishops vs. Bishop and Knight, and symmetrical Petroff Pawn structures. I missed the win of a light-squared Pawn on the Queen side: a stronger player would have immediately spotted the possibility, because of Black missing a light-squared Bishop while the Knight was out of play on the other side of the board. When I finally did see the win, I inexplicably did not take the free Pawn. I don’t remember what I was thinking 34 years ago, but perhaps I missed an elementary recapture with check?

Bishop versus Knight, symmetrical Pawns

At move 30, my opponent forced the trade of his remaining Bishop, leaving us with a Bishop versus Knight endgame. This is when things got strange. Neither of us knew what we were doing. We didn’t have clear plans, clear points of attack or defense. We played somewhat randomly. I made the first terrible moves, pushing a Pawn so far, without any support of my King, that it was doomed. Miraculously, my opponent never figured out how to win that Pawn. Apparently, neither of us had been taught that an active King is the most important piece in a minor piece and Pawn ending.

At move 35, an interesting thing happened: my opponent tried to trick me into trading my Bishop for his Knight, which, because of his more active King and position, would have led to a won King and Pawn ending. Critically, in my chess education I had learned the basics of standard King and Pawn endings, so I did not fall into the trap.

At move 44, I made a horrific “active” Pawn push to attack Black’s Knight, but this should have led easily to losing a Pawn by force, if the Knight simply danced around attacking all the Pawns in sight until one fell. Everyone should know basic examples of the special power of the Knight in an ending, especially against a Bishop that can only protect Pawns of one square color!

It turns out that at move 46, I horrifically gave up a Pawn voluntarily anyway. I can deduce what must have happened. There was a Knight check fork after which I could have taken the Knight with my Bishop, leading to a drawn King and Pawn ending, but I must have still felt (from the earlier trick attempt) that any King and Pawn ending was still lost for me. I didn’t evaluate the position as it was, but only thought about a past “similar” position that was in fact critically different. I will confess that even at my much higher level of chess today, I still sometimes fall into the trap of making assumptions based on past positions.

After winning the Pawn, the ending should have been an easy win for Black, but he did not know what to do with his King and Knight, and actually ended up putting his Knight on the rim where it is dim! This enabled me to regain the lost Pawn.

At move 60, my opponent made a random Knight move that I could have punished by invading the King side with my King and mopping up Pawns and Queening. But I did not realize that the situation had changed and I was winning; I did not use my King. I had been defending for 25 moves, basically, since mistakenly advancing my b-Pawn and making it a target. I started retreating again to “defend” my Queen side, rather than win on the King side.

Winning King and Pawn ending

Just as I started retreating, my opponent made a horrific blunder at move 62, moving his Knight such that I could skewer it with a check and trade into an obviously won King and Pawn ending. Apparently, he fell into the mental trap just mentioned earlier of thinking that because at one point, King and Pawn endings were winning for him, they must always be winning for him.

The rest of the game was easy, but I am proud that I cleaned up efficiently. One important part of it was knowing how to win a Queen versus Pawn ending by forcing the defending King to block the Pawn’s Queening square, gaining time. Finally I activated my King in the game! And I won without resorting to my other passed Pawn, just using my Queen and King.

The complete annotated game

Franklin Chen

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Poetic Justice

I’ll return to the history of Richmond Junior Club later, possibly next week, but first I’d like to show you a recent RJCC game played between two of my private pupils.

The game started with the French Defence. Black, the older of the two boys, favours this opening. He doesn’t yet know a lot about it, though, as he’s still too young to study chess on his own.

So: 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 (unusual in junior chess where the Exchange and Advance Variations are the usual choices) 3.. Nf6 4. Bd3 (a reasonable developing move, but not played often at higher levels, where Bg5 and e5 are preferred. Now c5 is the most popular reply, but instead Black immediately blunders)

4.. Bd6, and White spotted the opportunity to win a piece, playing 5. e5. This tactical idea, a pawn fork in the centre of the board, happens over and over again in games played by children. There are scores of examples in my Richmond Junior Club database. You’ll rarely come across this in books, though, because at higher levels players see it coming and avoid it. If Black had remembered to ask himself the Magic Question (“If I do that what will he do next?”) he might have chosen something else.

Black decided he ought to gain some compensation for the piece by getting his pieces out quickly, so the game continued 5.. Nc6 6. exd6 Qxd6.

At this level, children tend to think “How can I create a threat?” rather than “How can I put a piece on a better square?”. The next day I was playing Black in a training game against another of my private pupils, younger and less experienced than these two boys. I played the French Defence myself (I usually play 1.. e5 at this level but sometimes mix things a bit) and the game started 1. e4 e6 2. d4 (It took him some time to find this move) 2.. d5 3. exd5 exd5. Now he saw that he could threaten my queen by playing Bg5, reached out his hand, noticed that it wasn’t safe, and instead played the first move he saw that controlled g5: h4. At lower levels children play this sort of move for this reason all the time. I persuaded him that if he wanted to prepare Bg5 he’d be better off developing a piece with Nf3.

Returning to the game in question, then, White decided he’d like to play Bf4 to threaten the black queen, so chose to prepare it with the truly horrible 7. g3. A much more sensible approach to the position would have been simple development with Nf3 and O-O.

Black replied with 7.. e5, opening the centre against the white king, and White, his plan thwarted, looked for another way to threaten the black queen and found 8. Nb5. Black replied 8.. Qe7, defending c7 and eyeing the white king. It’s not so easy for White now as it’s going to be hard to get his king into safety. He played 9. Ne2, blocking the e-file and hoping to castle, but this move had a tactical disadvantage. Again, asking the Magic Question would have led him to an alternative solution.

Black could now regain his piece with 9.. e4, trapping the bishop on d3, another basic recurring tactical idea at this level, but he didn’t notice this and preferred to continue his development with 9.. Bg4. White traded pawns: 10. dxe5 Nxe5, reaching a position where Black has a Big Threat.

White has a few ways to stay in the game here, but instead he failed to ask himself the Magic Question and just developed a piece: 11. Be3, allowing Black to carry out his threat: 11.. Nf3+ 12. Kf1 Bh3# with a pretty checkmate. Poetic justice that Black’s knight and bishop occupied the squares that were weakened by g3, and a salutary lesson for White about how pawn moves can create weaknesses.

Here’s the complete game.

The game I usually use when teaching about pawn forks in the opening is this:

This is a trick worth knowing. Black developed his bishops on c5 and e6 and a knight on c6, giving White the chance to win a piece neatly with 7. d4, followed by d5. He missed his chance but still won a piece the following move when Black fell for another recurring tactic, the queen fork on a4. If 9. Bxb4, 10. Qa4+ wins.

Richard James

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Amateur Versus Master: Game Nine

This is a recently completed game that was played on the ICCF server. My opponent is from England and is one of two 2300 rated players that I drew in this section. He is also the highest rated player in this section. This draw has temporarily moved me back into second place out of 13. I doubt that I can remain in  second place because I am losing one of my three remaining games in this section.

This game went only 26 moves and thus it would qualify as a miniature, but it was not a “Grandmaster draw”. I had two pawns for a Knight, but a passed pawn on the Queenside was compensation for the Knight. I also had a fianchettoed Bishop that covered a potential queening square.

I play the English Opening as White and thus I dislike having to play against it as Black. However, in this game I did OK with it. I tried to transpose into a Modern Defense and then from there we got some kind of Benoni Defense. Having an up-to-date database of games helped me get through the opening without any errors. My analysis in the game below includes notes from other commentators.

By move number ten Black is lagging a little behind in development but is advancing his pawns on the Queenside. The trick here is for Black to avoid over extending those pawns. By move number 14 Black has completed his development and the game is even. On move number 16 Black starts a combination of moves that gives Black connected passed pawns for a Knight, but is still fairly even. I calculated at least a draw for Black with this in spite of the slight material deficit. The reader can decide for himself or herself how this game would have gone if we had played it out beyond 26 moves.

Mike Serovey

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Is It Worth Studying Your Own Games From Thirty Years Ago?

I am firmly convinced that the single best thing one can to do improve one’s chess is to analyze one’s actual games. For this reason, I make game analysis the cornerstone of my work with a student; from going over his games, and asking him why he played certain moves or what thoughts he was having, and how he evaluated certain positions, we get a lot of data to use in targeted improvement of endgame, middlegame, and opening understanding, as well as tactical themes.

But I didn’t quite take my own advice

So it is ironic that I never fully analyzed the games of chess that I played in my first five years in tournaments, from 1980-1985, ages 10-15! Several years ago, upon returning to chess after an absence of twenty years, I decided I might as well enter into a database all the tournament games I have ever played in my life, starting from my very first games as a child 34 years ago now in 1980. I had kept all my old scoresheets (except for one stray tournament I played while in high school; I seem to have misplaced my scoresheets from that Michigan high school tournament).

But I never actually went back to analyze any of those old games, except for a handful that came to mind because of important positions that had stuck in my mind. I basically came back to chess tournament play in 2005 with a clean slate, as though I had never played before. I had in twenty years completely forgotten any opening theory I had ever known (which was very little, actually), and therefore rebuilt my game from scratch. I didn’t feel that it was worth studying my old games from my childhood.

The reasons I did very little analysis of my games (other than sometimes a post mortem with some stronger players) during my tournament life in my youth:

  • My lack of access to computer engines in the early 1980s.
  • Not having a chess coach.

I have, of course, analyzed all of my games during my adult return to chess in 2005.

But the question remains: is it worth analyzing my ancient games from more than thirty years ago?

A bit about the past

Recently, out of curiosity, I decided to look at all the games in my first tournament I ever played, which was the 1980 Michigan Open, when I was 10 years old. This was the first tournament for my father also: we simultaneously entered the tournament world only weeks after he discovered a local chess club and took me there. They had said, hey, there’s an organization for official tournaments you should join, the United States Chess Federation, then you can play rated games, so we joined, we learned how to use chess clocks, and we both entered the Reserve (under-1800) Section of the Michigan Open.

Both my father and I did well in our first tournament in 1980. He won the First place Unrated trophy, and I won the Second place Unrated trophy, both of which he still has at home. I scored 3.5/7.0 points and my first provisional rating was 1546. Not bad for a 10-year-old who had only begun playing with people other than his father for a couple of weeks, and neither of us had ever had lessons, but just studied the game ourselves from old library books. My father achieved a provisional rating a bit higher, around 1574, I believe. He was still stronger than me; I would not surpass him until age 11, when he peaked at 17xx but I passed him, and also beat him at home for the first time ever.

The seeds of one’s personality and strengths and weaknesses?

To my surprise, examining the first seven tournament games I ever played, I felt some kind of recognition. Obviously, my tactical and positional understanding were much poorer than they would become later, but certain oddities or weaknesses of how I still play today seem present in those early games, and they contain some elements I am still proud of as well.

In addition, looking at more early games, I found a lot of material that I think may be useful for teaching purposes, because I actually remember what kind of mindset, even specific thoughts, led me to play in certain ways. Since my rating surpassed 2000 by 1985, sometimes it’s hard for me to remember specifically what it was like to play at a strength between 1500 and 2000. But it’s necessary to know that, in order to better teach and explain things for players of that range of strength.

Therefore, both for my own benefit and for others’ benefit, I may start selecting interesting games of mine from the 1980s for analysis.

As a basis, let’s start with my first tournament game in my life. In future posts, I will show how I improved my play after this first game. I did end up scoring 3.5/7.0 in this tournament!

My first game

I still remember my first tournament game. I was ten years old, I didn’t know what to expect, and I was on my own, as my father was also playing in his first tournament game. My opponent did not show up for something like twenty minutes. I sat there as my clock ticked.

I played pretty badly in my first game. My annotations show my memories of what I was thinking during the game.

Franklin Chen

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Milner-Barry Gambit Versus The French Defense: Game 3

This game is one of my recently completed games at ICCF. My opponent in this game was rated about 50 points above me at the start of this game. I found plenty of his games in my database and thus I knew that he liked to play the French Defense. I don’t remember finding any games in which he faced the Milner-Barry Gambit, so I decided to try that opening. This time it paid off with an exciting win.

The first 11 moves of this game went exactly as I wanted them to. I was surprised by Black’s move number 12. From move 13 on I was into my own original analysis. I doubt that I would have found all of White’s good moves in an Over the Board (OTB) game. However, my familiarity with this opening would have helped me if I had enough time to look at key ideas and positions.

White gets a lead in development and attacks against Black’s King and Queen as compensation for the pawns that are sacrificed. However, I will also recapture some of my lost pawns when I get the chance to.

Black’s fifteenth move was a mistake because it forced the White Rook to a better square. Putting the Bishop on c5 would have been slightly better because it would temporarily keep the White Rook off e3. White was winning from move number 16 on, but I still needed to find the correct follow-up ideas to my previous moves. Again, Black surprised me a few times but never found any moves that threw me off.

White is putting pressure on f7 as well as chasing some of Black’s pieces around. The double check on move number 19 is, again, intended to remove some of the defenders from the Black King. Doubling the pawns on the f file gives White more targets to attack.

On move number 22 White has several options. I decided to play the pawn to h4 in order to give the White King an escape square if needed and to break up the pawn structure around the Black King. Continuing to advance the h pawn is just following through on my idea to shatter the pawn structure around the Black King. Although Black was losing at the point where he resigned, I still think that the resignation was a little premature. Still, I’m not complaining!

This game gives me my second win in this section. At the time that I am writing this I am in fourth place out of thirteen with two wins, one loss and five draws. The one person that I lost to is now in fifth place. I still have four games remaining in this section and at least one of them is a win.

Mike Serovey

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Defence Skills

Defence skills are just as important as attacking skills. At a basic level, that means noticing when, for example, an undefended piece is attacked and threatened with capture. Usually, defending it or moving it is required – unless there is something more important going on elsewhere on the board, like a checkmate threat. In chess clubs at primary schools, players can often miss that their pieces are en prise (‘in a position to be taken’). Just getting them to check before they move whether any of their pieces are en prise is a good habit, and a breakthrough if they can manage it. When I see players hesitating even for a moment before making a move, it is a good sign that they are considering things that previously they would have ignored or overlooked. With experience they learn that mistakes like leaving pieces en prise for no good reason, can and usually will get punished by experienced opponents.

Scholar’s Mate, and variants of this, are simple attacks right out of the opening, but they are remarkably effective at school chess clubs and junior tournaments. Learning how to defend against this most basic attack is an important first step on the road to improving defence skills. Players that can survive the opening without being mated or losing material often find that their opponents start to lose heart. The game is not over in seconds; the first attack of the game has failed; and they have a fight on their hands. Having easily repelled an attack the initiative can pass to the defender.

Here is the classic Scholar’s Mate:

Here is a kind of Scholar’s Mate that was played at a recent junior tournament. Note how Black overlooks the vast array of defensive moves he has at his disposal to avoid mate (not to mention White’s own blunder):

Most of the time juniors at school chess clubs don’t need to play amazing attacking chess to win a game. They just need to be alert to threats and have some basic defensive skills. Training and practice that cultivates defence skills is just as important as attack skills. Good tactics training will include both attack and defence problems to solve, because finding the right way to defend can be just as important as finding the right attacking moves.

Angus James

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Failing to Win a Won Game, Part 1

This game is from Round 1 of my most recent Over the Board (OTB) chess tournament played in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This game illustrates a number of points that I want to make. First, I am not ready to play chess before noon! Second, this is one of too many games in which I outplayed my opponent in the opening and still lost the endgame! This clearly illustrates that no game is over until it is really over. Third, I don’t play well when I am not properly rested or ill. Fourth, sometimes kids will beat experienced players because the kids are healthy while we older adults often have chronic health problems. And fifth, I really do need to slow down when I am winning so that I don’t blow the win again!

I learned this opening back in 1975 from my younger brother, Steve. He got it from his only chess book, MCO 10. What we both liked about this variation was all of the traps that our young opponents often fell into. Back then it was called the Four Knights variation of the Sicilian Defense. Now, it is called some kind of Taimanov Variation of the Sicilian Defense. I will always call it the Four Knights Variation. Another thing that I like is that most of my OTB opponents do not know the main lines so I usually get an opening advantage.

After falling into an opening trap, I failed to find the best move to play on my tenth turn. Even so, I was still winning. My opponent gave me plenty of chances to either win or draw this game and I missed about half of them. Throughout most of this game I was feeling dizzy and light-headed. This could have been caused by not eating enough breakfast or from my sensitivity to rainy weather. Either way, my USCF standard rating has been at or near its floor of 1500 for about ten years now! These one-day tornados have killed my rating!

When I first started playing rated chess back in November of 1974 the typical first time control was 40 moves in 60 minutes. The second time control was sudden death in 30 minutes with any time that was left over from the first time control being carried over to the second one. That gave me an average of a minute and a half per move and I could pace myself accordingly. Now, I tend to rush my moves if I get more than 10 minutes behind my opponent.

Back around 1976 an expert in Texas named David Wheeler asked for some games in which the Four Knights was played. I sent him some that Steve and I played and he used two of them in his booklet. As a result of using our games David sent me a free copy of his booklet. I am planning to do something similar with my games. Any book on the Taimanov Sicilian or good database will cover the main lines of this opening. My intent is to write a book for the club player and feature lines that will be more likely seen in OTB games against non masters.

All of my notes are included in the game below.

Mike Serovey

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